As you take the fifth chair a Telltale’s high-stakes underground game, Poker Night 2, you’ll be matching wits with a variety of wise-cracking and sometimes filthy-mouthed celebrities from TV, Film, and video gaming. From left to right, there is Brock Samson, the “one-half Swedish, one-quarter Polish, one-quarter Winnebago” assassin / bodyguard in Adult Swim’s Venture Bros. and is voiced by voiced by Patrick Warburton (Seinfeld’s Puddy). Next is the hilarious one-wheeled robot Claptrap from Borderlands 2. The third chair is filled by none-other than one-armed undead obliterating bad-ass Ash Williams (voiced by Bruce Campbell) from the Evil Dead / Army of Darkness series of films, and the last seat is taken by Telltale’s own six-foot tall gun-toting canine gumshoe, Sam from the Sam & Max adventure game series. And the icing on the cake…Portal’s sarcastic, psychopathic artificial intelligence lifeform, GLaDOS makes an appearance as the dealer.
It may seem like an odd assortment of characters for an iOS game, but you have to remember this was originally for consoles and the PC/Steam platforms. If you are not familiar will all of the game’s celebrity characters, don’t worry about it. Sure you may miss a few of the references, but there are still plenty of laughs to be had. I myself was only familiar with half of them (and GLaDOS) and I am having a blast. Heck, my wife could only hear the game from the kitchen table while I was playing on the couch and she was laughing too. I think she’s only familiar with GLaDOS and Bruce Campbell (more from Burn Notice). So while it helps to know the characters, it’s not necessary, though I do have an urge to check out Venture Bros. and Badlands 2 now.
Enough about the opponents…what about the actual poker playing?
Since the game doesn’t have a multiplayer component, you’ll be playing all of your tournaments against the aforementioned celebrity AI players, but despite the lack of any sort of difficulty toggle, Telltale has done a rather fine job of balancing the AI and every poker hand feels very fair, with opponents doing their fair share of bluffing and sometimes calling yours. None of the players seem overly skilled and everything feels kosher and evenly matched.
You have your choice of two flavors of poker, the ever-popular Texas Holdem and less-televised Omaha, both of which have a $20,000 buy-in. The later gives each player two additional cards in their hand (four total), leading to increased opportunities for bluffing and a lot more uncertainty when trying to calculate your odds of building the best 5-card hand. Speaking of which, in an “all-in” scenario, Poker Night 2 does a really nice job of calculating and showing the odds of each player winning with each subsequent community card being revealed…adding to the tension.
After you get few tournaments under your belt, the random challenge system is introduced. Essentially you are presented with a selection of three goals to accomplish during the next tournament. These could be something like “Win a showdown with a straight or better” or just to “Knock out an opponent”. If you can accomplish all three goals, then in the following tournament, one of the players will put up a prized possession as a Bounty challenge which you can win if you win that tournament. That’s how I got my hands on Ash’s Necronomicon (book of the dead), though I guess the jury is still out on whether or not that is a good thing, seeing as it IS cursed and all.
Rounding out the game is some unlockable content including themed chips, decks and table felts which can be purchase using tokens earned during normal play. They are tied to the games/shows/movies of your opponents. My one complaint here is that the prices of these items are not displayed until you try to purchase them. It’d be nicer if you could see what you can afford just by glancing at them.
There is also a robust stats page that shows you how many tournaments you’ve won, your current balance, how many players you’ve knocked out, the percentage of hands you’ve won, how many times you’ve gone all-in and won and more.
Overall Poker Night 2 is a very entertaining poker experience. The witty banter keeps you entertained, but underneath the levity is a solid poker engine and a formidable set of opponents. I’d love to see a multiplayer component, or since the first Poker Night game never made it to iOS, I’d love to see those characters ((Max of Sam & Max, Strong Bad from Homestar Runner, Tycho from Penny Arcade, and the Heavy class from Team Fortress 2) offered as an expansion sometime in the future. As it stands, Poker Night 2’s $5 buy-in is well worth it.